By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
This has been a once-in-a-lifetime season in West Middlesex High’s football annals, which is why head coach Brian Hoffman doesn’t want it to end. So as the calendar turns to December and the start of the winter-sports season for most schools, Hoffman’s Big Reds are hoping to extend this great gridiron season.
“We’re trying to emphasize and get into the kids’ heads that this is the opportunity of a lifetime, and to make the most of it,” Hoffman summarized.
The Big Reds encounter Coudersport in the commonwealth’s Class A playoffs 7 p.m. today at Clarion University’s Memorial Stadium. Meanwhile, Wilmington meets Bishop McCort in the PIAA AA playoffs, 7 p.m at Slippery Rock University’s N. Kerr Thompson Stadium.
Both West Middlesex and Wilmington are 13-0, which according to available Herald archives are school single-season standards for wins. However, while Wilmington has advanced as far as the state title tilt once (1988, bowing to Bethlehem Catholic 26-11) and the semifinals as recently as ’95-96, West Middlesex never has won a PIAA playoff game outside of District 10.
“Obviously, it was a tremendous honor to win District 10. That was one of our goals at the beginning of the year,” the humble Hoffman related, quickly adding, “but this team definitely has the characteristics to win a state playoff game, and I hope (that was) reflect(ed) during this week in preparation for the game.”
Undefeated Coudy has claimed 13 consecutive wins, and is essentially the same club that KO’d Kennedy Catholic 48-42 in double-overtime in last year’s PIAA playoffs.
Coached by Paul Simcoe, Coudersport is averaging 27.1 points per game, led by running back Chris Cavallari (260 carries, 1,617 yards rushing, 6.22 yards/carry, 18 TDs, 140 points), quarterback Boomer Wetzel (35 completions in 76 attempts, 46 percent, 567 yards, 8 TDs, 7 interceptions), and receivers Logan Hathaway (20 catches, 368 yards, 18.4 yards/catch, 7 TDs) and Cavallari (11-152, 13.62, 3).
“I feel Coudersport is definitely a team that is going to pose some challenges, especially their skill-position kids,” Hoffman (23-11), the third-year Middlesex mentor, assessed. “Kennedy and Sharpsville did have some players with speed, but Coudersport, top to bottom, is a fast football team. That’s going to be a transition for us, and hopefully we’ll be able to make that.”
Defensively, the Falcons fly to the ball led by Drew Levavasseur’s 87 tackles (16 solos) and Kirk Duffee and Isaac Cary, both of whom have logged 68 stops. Also, Kody Frederick and Cavallari are credited with 12 and 11 quarterback sacks, respectively, and Cary collected another 7, while Derek Burdick, Colt Corey and Hathaway evenly have divided a dozen interceptions. Cavallari (9.89) and Kyle Gee (18.50) also give Coudy’s special teams adequate punt- and kickoff-return threats.
West Middlesex’s multi-dimensional offense averages 35.9 ppg. and 343.4 ypg., led by quarterback Kolten Hoffman’s arm (114-184, 61.9 percent, 1,841 yards, 18 TDs) and legs (119-639, 5.3, 22).
Hoffman (4,592) is on the verge of surpassing former Sharpsville standout John Napotnik (4,597) as Mercer County’s career yards passing pacesetter.
In addition to Hoffman the Big Reds’ backfield boasts the trio of Josh Brown (94-656, 6.9, 6), Steve Andrusky (109-616, 5.6, 12) and Lucas Allen (87-585, 6.7, 3), while Allen (32-594, 18.5, 5), Brown (28-517, 18.4, 5), Tyler Barris (21-343, 16.5, 3) and Andrusky (20-277, 13.8, 3) add an aerial alternative.
When not linebacking West Middlesex’s defense (7.3 ppg., 171.6 ypg.) Brown becomes a special teams weapon as a punt- and kickoff-returner as well as placekicker.
Middlesex is making its third PIAA appearance in the last five seasons and Hoffman, an assistant on those two previous teams (’02-03) reflected,
“When we were there in 2002, we were just happy to be there. But this group, having had the experience of going through it and losing (in ’03) — even though a lot of them didn’t play a significant role that time around — they experienced that losing feeling and they know what it’s all about. So I think that may make them more determined.
“At this point, there are eight teams left and some of them are undefeated, so I don’t know if that puts any added pressure on us. An undefeated season at this point? I don’t think that’s the point of emphasis, and we haven’t concerned ourselves with being undefeated,” Hoffman reflected. “In some respects this is kind of icing on the cake, so to speak. But, again, I know as a coach I’m not satisfied. This team is definitely capable of winning a playoff game and going a little bit further.
“It’s my job and my coaching staff’s job to make sure this team realizes that they can’t be content, and I still see that determinedness. I’m hopeful they’re going to step up and play the game as hard as they have the last three weeks,” Hoffman added. “As a coach, that’s my job: To get it into their heads so that they fully understand what’s at stake.
“I’m so excited!” the humble Hoffman admitted. “Coaching this team, I don’t want it to end. This is more than just about winning football games. I thoroughly enjoy being around this team; they make every day at practice a fun thing for me.
“As a coaching staff, if you can’t motivate yourself, there’s definitely something wrong — maybe you should be selling cars or something,” quipped Hoffman, who added, “I don’t regret one moment of this.”
The game will be broadcast on NewsTalk 790 (WPIC AM), with Mark Slezak and Bob Greenburg calling the action.
Wilmington (13-0) vs. Bishop McCort (11-1)
Wilmington’s proud program has a PIAA past, but these Greyhounds’ gridders are encountering an unknown commodity in McCort.
Coach Ken Salem’s Crimson Crushers have coasted to 26.4 ppg., led by quarterback Jordan Defrances (100-180, 55.5 percent, 1,283, 8 TDs, 9 interceptions), running backs Scott Lewis (128-1,028, 8.03, 9) and Brad Barbin (152-793, 5.22, 18; team-high 122 points), and receivers Chris Seidel (31-512, 16.52, 2), Barbin (21-306, 14.57, 1) and Michael Cruz (19-191, 10.05, 3).
Defensively, Lewis has lent 85 tackles and 6 sacks and Chris Kawchak 71 and 4, respectively, while Anthony Caperelli (67), Wayne Jones (59), and Jon Parso (54) also arrive at the ball, and Jack Schrey has pilfered 3 passes.
The Greyhounds’ ground game of Chris Burns (150-1,230, 8.2, 20), David Bruno (103-625, 6.0, 8), Forrest Minteer (82-537, 6.5, 8) and Jake Reiber (67-362, 5.4, 9) enables Wilmington’s offense to average nightly norms of 35 points and 323 yards. Reiber (62-112, 55.3, 981, 12) and go-to guys Jeremy Beatty (29-462, 15.9, 3), Burns (13-230, 17.6, 3) and Nate Reynolds (14-167, 11.9, 3) lend balance via the air waves, and Nick Riggall (48 PATs, 6 field goals, 66 points) has emerged as the area’s leading placekicker.
Though only a junior, Burns has blossomed into the area’s second-leading scorer (24 TDs, 148 points).
Conversely, the Hounds Hammer defense, led by Brandon Palladino, Lou Campbell and Shane Wagner, et al, is yielding only 6.6 points and 153.6 yards per game.
Led by veteran mentor Terry Verrelli (204-98-3), Wilmington won its seventh D-10 title (5 AA, 2 AAA) last week, in addition to a trio of runner-up berths.
In its recent PIAA playoff history, Wilmington lost openers in ’94 (23-14 to Brookville) and ’01 (35-6 to Perry Traditional Academy), in addition to semifinal setbacks to West Allegheny (37-7) in ’98 and Tyrone in ’96 (14-10) and ’95 (14-7) when Wilmington won 12 games in each of those three seasons.
The game will be broadcast on The River 96.7 (WLLF FM), with Joe Klimchak and Chris Burtch calling the action.
Notes: In this week’s polls, Wilmington is ranked 3rd by both The Patriot-News of Harrisburg and SPORTSfever magazine, while West Middlesex is rated 5th and 7th, respectively. ... radio airtime tonight is 6:10 p.m. with the “Pigskin Preview Show” hosted by Hugh Ringer being simulcast. Pre-game shows from both sites begin 6:30 p.m. “The Fifth-Quarter Show” follows at approximately 9:30 p.m.
Herald sports writer Rob Malsom contributed research for this preview
By Ed Farrell